Saturday, November 30, 2013

Marlowe, Blake, Ray Davies

Without intending it, I've been reading memoirs that approach their subject through place. I just finished The World of Christopher Marlowe, by David Riggs. Somewhat heavy slogging for the non-academic reader because it must wear its scholarship on its sleeve, but a thorough New Historical approach to its subject. One especially learns how grinding was the work and how dreary the life of poor scholarship boys who won, against great odds, the few scholarships at Canterbury and later, to Cambridge that had been made possible by Protestant King Henry. A few boys of non-noble families, if they were brilliant and hard-working enough, could experience a form of class deracination and ascension, even as they saw the sons of the minor nobility move on with a minimum of effort or accomplishment.  Those who were not content to follow the path of obedience and conformity into minor clerical posts were good candidates for recruitiment into the feverish espionage activities of Catholic and Protestant plots; they might enjoy some escape from grinding poverty and drudgery but also were also in great danger, and could end up stabbed in the eye like Marlowe, or gruesomely drawn and quartered, like other spies who were not saved  by their spy-masters. Not much on the plays themselves, but then I'm not a fan.

I have just begun Peter Ackroyd's book about William Blake. I know next to nothing about Blake's poetry, never having found congenial the glimpses of a visonary poet as presented in the usual literary histories, but Ackroyd does a wonderful job of weaving in the details of London then and now with the story of Blake and his world, and gives more weight to his work as an artist and engraver. I might still not want to read Blake the way I read the Spanish mystic poets, but with Ackroyd's books, one sees a deployment of erudition rather than scholarship, and the reading is much more agreeable. Alas, I think I stopped writing in part because I could do a very good job as the first kind of writer, but not so much as the second, and my standards and internal censorship were too strong to overcome the fear of professional punishment that came when I stopped the academic writing.

Today, I'm going to the library  to pick up two more books I have on hold, both by Ray Davies, lead singer and songwriter for The Kinks. The first one was published ten years ago, and is called "an unauthorized biography" although it is Davies himself who wrote it. The second just came out this year, and is more straight-up memoir/recollections of the music business. 

In this BBC documentary on The Kinks, someone Damian Albarn, of Blur and Gorillaz,  makes this great observation: "The Stones were pornographic and The Kinks were geographic."


Many people love their song "Waterloo Sunset" for its melody, but it also such an evocation of a place.

Ray Davies voice isn't the most dramatic, but he can actually sing his demanding vocal lines with great fidelity to pitch. Respect.


1 comment:

Fresca said...

"my standards and internal censorship were too strong to overcome the fear of professional punishment "
Oh, do I recognize that!
It's a real strangler of creativity.
Like, I had the hardest time just saying I liked something, without feeling I had to write a dissertation defending it.
Shudder.
Falling in love with and wanting to chortle on about something so silly as Star Trek helped me get over it.
SUre, Star Trek is acadmeically defensible, but that wasn't how I felt about it.
I count is as among my saviors.